ten Boom, Corrie (1892–1983)

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ten Boom, Corrie (1892–1983)

Dutch Evangelical who aided the underground during World War II, helping to save over 700 Jews from Nazi genocide, and spoke and wrote widely about her experiences and religious faith after the war. Born on April 15, 1892, in Haarlem, Holland; died on April 15, 1983, in Orange County, California; youngest daughter and one of four children (three girls and a boy) of Casper ten Boom (a watchmaker) and Cornelia ten Boom; attended Bible school; trained as a watchmaker, 1920–22; never married; no children.

One of four children of a Dutch watchmaker, Corrie ten Boom was born in 1892 and grew up in rooms above a clock shop in Haarlem, Holland, which had been opened in 1837 by her grandfather Willem and passed down to her father Casper. In addition to running their business, the ten Boom family were devout Christians who devoted themselves to social and religious causes within the community. Their house, called Béjé (short for Barteljorisstraat), was always open to anyone in need. Corrie, characterized as a rough-and-tumble, stubborn child, lost her mother in 1919. She attended Bible school and later trained as a watchmaker, becoming the first woman watchmaker licensed in Holland. In 1923, she organized the first girls' club in her community which later became part of the larger Triangle Club.

During the Nazi occupation in 1940, Corrie's brother Willem was the initial member of the family to became active in the underground rescue movement, but it was not long before the entire family was involved. "We had not planned our rescue work," Corrie said later. "People started coming to us, saying, 'The Gestapo is behind us,' and we took them in. Soon others followed." At any time, there were usually about six or seven people illegally housed with the ten Booms. Corrie became an organizer for the Haarlem underground, "the B group," which helped to locate other Dutch families brave enough to house the refugees. From 1943 to 1944, the ten Booms and their network of friends saved over 700 Jews, and protected scores of Dutch underground workers.

On February 28, 1944, the family was betrayed, and the Gestapo raided the house, conducting a systematic search. On that day, there were two Jewish men, two Jewish women, and two members of the Dutch underground hiding behind a false wall in Corrie's bedroom. They remained undiscovered, but Corrie and five other members of her family were arrested and taken to prison, as were some 15 of their friends who had come to the house throughout the day, unaware that the Gestapo waited inside. Although the house remained under guard, within two days the Resistance was able to rescue the hidden refugees, who had remained in silence within the cramped quarters with no water and very little food. All but one of them, a resistance worker, survived the war.

The ten Boom family was sent to Scheveningen Prison, where Casper, age 84, died ten days later. Corrie and her sister Betsie ten Boom were transferred first to Vught, then to Ravensbrück in Germany, where Betsie died in December 1944. Corrie survived and was released from the camp through a clerical error. (Corrie's nephew Kik also died in a prison camp during the war.

Her brother Willem was released from Scheveningen, but had already contracted tuberculosis of the spine, which he died of shortly after the war. Another sister Nollie ten Boom , who had been arrested with the rest of the family, survived along with Corrie.)

Corrie returned to Holland believing that her life was a gift from God. "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still," she often said. "God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies." In response to many invitations to share her experiences, she began a traveling ministry, taking her message to Christian groups and prisons in 60 countries over the next 32 years. Calling herself a "Tramp for the Lord," which also became the title of one of her books, she preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with an emphasis on forgiveness.

Her own spirit of forgiveness was tested in 1947, when, following a speaking engagement in Germany, she encountered one of the guards from Ravensbrück. Not recognizing her, he came forward following her talk and told her that he had become a Christian after the war. "I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there," he said, "but I would like to hear it from your lips as well." Remembering the horrors she and her sister had faced at Ravensbrück, Corrie wrestled with the decision to forgive him, which she called the most difficult thing she would ever have to do. "For I had to do it," she later explained, "I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us." As she reached rather woodenly to take the hand that he proffered, she experienced a transformation. "The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands," she wrote. "And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. 'I forgive you, brother!' I cried. 'With all my heart.' For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then." She returned to her travel with renewed commitment.

In addition to her travels, ten Boom was a prolific writer. In 1971, her book The Hiding Place became a bestseller. With the release of the movie in 1975, which starred Julie Harris , she became a celebrity within the Evangelical community. Soon afterward, at age 84, she gave up her travels and settled in the United States, purchasing a modest home in Orange County, California. On August 23, 1978, ten Boom suffered a massive stroke which left her totally incapacitated. She survived until 1983, dying on her 91st birthday.

Corrie's memory, and that of her family, lives on at the ten Boom house, which is once again open to all as a museum. The ten Boom Clock and Watch shop has also been refurbished, and is overseen by a watchmaker who repairs watches on the premises. The family is also remembered at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. There, in the Garden of Righteousness, Corrie ten Boom planted a tree in 1968, honoring the many Jewish lives her family saved.

suggested reading:

Carlson, Carole C. Corrie ten Boom: Her Life, Her Faith. Ravell, 1983.

Rosewell, Pamela (Moore). Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom. Zondervan, 1986.

Stamps, Ellen de Kroon. My Years with Corrie. Revell, 1978.

Wellman, Sam. Corrie ten Boom. Barbour, 1995.

related media:

The Hiding Place (150 min. film), starring Eileen Heckart , Arthur O'Connell, Julie Harris as Betsie and Jeannette Cliff as Corrie, produced by World Wide, 1975.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts